Story last updated at 7/29/2009 - 11:18 am
For 20 years running, Dutch Harbor has retained the title as the nation's top fishing port. According to NOAA Fisheries' popular annual report, Alaska fishermen delivered 612.7 million pounds of fish and shellfish at Dutch Harbor last year, mostly Alaska pollock. The landings were down from 777 million pounds in 2007.
Ports in Virginia and Louisiana pushed Kodiak down a peg to fifth place with seafood landings at 251 million pounds, a drop from 320 million in 2007.
In terms of value of the catch, New Bedford, Mass. claimed the top spot for the 9th year running, topping $241 million at the docks, mostly due to pricey scallops. Dutch Harbor ranked second at $195 million (up from $126 million), and Kodiak held on to 3rd place with landings valued at $98.7 million (down from $126 million in 2007).
Other Alaska ports making the top 10 for landing values were Naknek/King Salmon ($65.3 million) and Cordova ($50.4 million). Sitka ranked No. 13, Petersburg No. 26, Ketchikan No. 28, Seward No. 33, and Juneau at No. 46. (Interestingly, Homer is not on the list of US ports).
In all, U.S. fishermen landed 8.3 billion pounds of seafood last year (down 11 percent), valued at $192 million (a 5 percent increase.)
The average price paid to U.S. fishermen for their catches last year was 53 cents, compared to 45 cents in 2007. The price for fish increased by 57 percent, and 8 percent for shellfish. Find the Status of U.S. Fisheries Report at http://www.st.nmfs.noaa.gov/st1/index.html.
America's Top 10 List of seafood favorites has remained largely the same, with only flatfish and clams flip-flopping the number 9 and 10 spots last year. The popular list is compiled each year by the National Fisheries Institute and industry analyst Howard M. Johnson.
Shrimp is still America's favorite followed by canned tuna - consumption was up slightly for both. Salmon held on to No. 3, followed by Alaska pollock, tilapia, catfish, crabs and cod.
Americans ate 16 pounds of seafood per person last year, a drop from 16.3 pounds in 2007 and a decrease for the third year in a row.
Salmon and pollock took the biggest hits on America's dinner plates. Per capita salmon consumption of 1.84 pounds fell 22 percent between 2007 and 2008. For Alaska pollock, consumption of 1.34 pounds reflects a 23 percent drop from last year.
"That reflects a rise in prices for salmon due to shortages in farmed fish from Chile - that's had a big impact on retail sales," said market analyst John Sackton in an analysis at www.seafood.com. "For pollock, it likely reflects lower catches boosting the prices for both fillet and surimi products."
Other notables - for the first time since 2000, Americans ate less crab and crab meat, falling by 10 percent (also likely due to higher prices). Tilapia - primarily from Chinese fish farms - is one of the few seafood items to show steady increases. U.S. consumption of tilapia has increased 242 percent since 2001.
Sackton predicts for 2009 that crab and cod consumption will increase, pollock and salmon consumption will continue to decline, and that shrimp and tuna eating trends will be fairly stable.
Some fishy math
Some fishy math is being used by activists to pump up mercury levels and scare people away from eating seafood.
This year the Food & Drug Administration cautioned that the "risk only" approach in federal guidelines may have a negative impact on public health by discouraging fish consumption, especially by young mothers and babies.
To bring balance to the dispute, the Center for Consumer Freedom has launched an online calculator that quickly computes risk and benefits for America's seafood favorites, based on government guidelines.
Find the calculator on the Web site www.HowMuchFish.com, then simply put in your weight, choose a seafood and portion size. Select wild salmon, for example - put in 130 pounds and an 8 oz. portion - you'll see the lineup of omega 3s, protein, iron, etc. - and that you would have to eat seven pounds of salmon per week for the rest of your life in order to face risks from mercury. You'd have to eat 24 pounds of pollock each week, and 10.3 pounds of codfish. For canned albacore tuna, risk begins at an intake of 2.7 pounds per week; 8.3 pounds for light tuna.
The nonprofit Center for Consumer Freedom calls fish a superfood, and says "the entire medical literature contains zero cases of fetal mercury poisoning related to eating fish - but it is full of evidence that fish is a healthy food." www.HowMuchFish.com.
Laine Welch has been covering news of Alaska's seafood industry since 1988. Her weekly Fish Factor column appears in a dozen newspapers and web outlets. Her daily Fish Radio programs air on 27 stations around Alaska. Welch lives in Kodiak.